People from both sides of the Longport bridge have spoken — and the consensus is to leave at least one lane of the bridge open during repairs next fall, even if it means the work takes longer.
The informal audience vote took place at the end of an Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting Tuesdayat Longport Borough Hall, which included a presentation detailing the planned months-long repairs to the JFK Memorial Bridge between Longport and the Seaview Harbor section of Egg Harbor Township.
Atlantic County Engineer Joseph D’Abundo and project engineer Brian Strizki of JMT Engineering explained the options for the proposed $3.1 million project to rehabilitate and redeck the bridge.
One plan is for the contractor to try the alternate-lane approach, where one lane would be closed and one open for a period from September 2013 to April 2014 and again in fall 2014, with work going on 24 hours from Monday through Thursday.
In the other approach, “We’d allow the contractor to close the (entire) bridge and really allow the contractor to have at it,” D’Abundo said. Work would end earlier, around April 2014, and would be limited to the hours 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — so while the road would be totally closed, the noisy concrete work would be limited to daylight hours.
The near-standing-room-only crowd, including several mayors and police and fire chiefs, was solidly behind keeping access to the mainland open — even through one lane — rather than having to take the 18.5-mile detour through Ventnor, Route 40 and Route 9 or the 12-mile detour using the Downbeach Express toll road in Margate.
Among the reasons mentioned was the importance of getting from the Downbeach towns to doctors and medical care at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point.
“I personally feel alternate route is probably the best way to go,” said Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser. “I feel it’s the best possible thing to do.”
Added Margate Mayor Mike Becker, “I too would support the alternate route. It feels better for residents and for our businesses.”
Becker even asked if the 24-hour work could be expanded from four days a week to five or six in order to get it done faster. D’Abundo said that was a possibility, depending on the contractor, but the bids would go out using four days as a minimum.
Margate police Chief David Wolfson’s concern was for emergency evacuations and returns, like the five-day evacuation during Hurricane Sandy in October.
“We had a nightmare with people getting back into the island when the evacuation was lifted, to the point where had to remove the checkpoint, and we literally had cars backed up to Fire Road,” Wolfson said. “And that’s what I fear. I can’t imagine what it would be like in a catastrophe getting off (the island).”
Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles, meanwhile, said he would ask for more signalmen than just one at each end, due to the rise of the bridge in the middle.
Island residents, such as Tom Kenny of Longport, were also behind the alternate-lane plan.
“I don’t want to see them close it,” Kenny said after the meeting. “It’s easy sitting over in the mainland to say, ‘Close it down.’ But when you live here year-round, it’s a different story.”
The work is scheduled for the offseason, when traffic is about 7,500 vehicles a day, to avoid the summertime traffic, which is double that.
D’Abundo and Strizki explained the “unique” construction of the 50-year-old span, which is made up of reinforced concrete, steel girders and I-beams, and supported by piles made of both steel and timber.
The work to be done includes repairing the concrete deck and putting in a sealer overlay, adding all new deck joints, repairing the structural steel in the main span, repairing the piles and restoring the capacity of the pre-stressed I-beams using carbon fiber wrap.
“We just can’t ignore these items here,” D’Abundo said. “If we don’t address them immediately, then you go to weight standards on the bridge.”
The repairs should hold for another 25 years, he added. Replacing the bridge instead, he said, would put it out of service for 2.5 to 3 years and cost $30 million if the Somers Point bridge were included.
“I don’t want to speak for the administration and freeholder board, but I don’t think they have $30 million right now,” D’Abundo said.
The Longport Borough Council will vote on the project Feb. 20, though the final parameters will be determined by the county administration.
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